On July 1, 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council met in Geneva and adopted a landmark resolution urging States to monitor and regulate private education providers. The resolution aims to address the emergence of large-scale for-profit “low cost” private school chains that target poor families in developing countries and compromise the right to education. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 29/L.14/Rev.1, Resolution on the Right to Education, UN Doc. A/HRC/29/L.14/Rev.1, July 1, 2015. This resolution, which was adopted during the 29th regular session, marks the first time that the Human Rights Council has responded to the growing phenomenon of the privatization and commercialization of education. [Right to Education Project] The resolution addresses the issue of the increasing number of educational establishments that are unregistered, unregulated, and funded and managed by individuals or enterprises (including non-State actors that are not religious institutions, NGOs, community-based groups, foundations, or trusts). This has negatively impacted the right to education and undermined the concept of education as a public good. See UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Kishore Singh, UN Doc. A/HRC/29/30, June 10, 2015, 3..
Among other things, the resolution urges States to establish regulatory frameworks that are consistent with their international human rights obligations and contain minimum norms and standards for educational institutions, confirms that education is a “public good,” emphasizes that States must invest the “maximum of available resources” towards education, and urges States to invest in increasing their understanding of the ways in which the commercialization of education impacts the right to education. See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 29/L.14/Rev.1, Resolution on the Right to Education, UN Doc. A/HRC/29/L.14/Rev.1 (2015).
Background to the Resolution
This resolution builds upon the extensive efforts of UN treaty bodies, civil society organizations, and independent experts over the last several years. For example, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) researched the role of private actors in education in Chile, Ghana, Morocco, and Uganda between September 2014 and June 2015 and issued a series of observations and recommendations. Additionally, more than 60 other concluding observations have been issued by these UN committees on the topic (the complete list will be published later this year). The Special Rapporteur on the right to education presented a thematic report to the Human Rights Council in June 2015 examining the rapid increase in the number of private education providers and the negative effects on the right to education, and emphasizing the need to develop effective regulatory frameworks for controlling private providers of education and safeguard education as a public good. Furthermore, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have contributed to attaining the goals of the Education for All agenda and education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Finally, numerous civil society organizations have advocated against the World Bank’s policy of promoting fee-charging, for-profit schools in Kenya and Uganda. [The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Joint Statement]
Purpose and Scope of the Resolution
The resolution begins by reaffirming the right to education, which is protected in the following international treaties: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW); and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD). See UN Human Rights Council, Resolution 29/L.14/Rev.1, Resolution on the Right to Education, UN Doc. A/HRC/29/L.14/Rev.1, July 1, 2015, at p. 1.
The resolution expresses concern about the following issues: the “negative impact of conflict and crisis on the full realization of the right to education,” especially given that “more than one third of the world’s 121 million school children are in conflict-affected countries” where there are continuous attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities; the fact that those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to education, such as achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality and empowering women, have not yet been fully achieved; and that the right to education is a necessary element of the post-2015 development agenda and therefore must be addressed. See id. at p. 2.
The resolution puts forth six recommendations that will enable Member States to comply with their obligation to ensure the right to education:
- Put in place a “regulatory framework” for education providers that establishes minimum norms and standards that should be adhered to in establishing and operating educational institutions. This framework should be guided by international human rights principles.
- Expand educational opportunities for all individuals without discrimination. Special attention should be paid to girls, marginalized children, and persons with disabilities. States should recognize the importance of public investment in education and should strengthen their engagement with communities, local actors, and civil society in order to contribute to education as a public good.
- Ensure that education complies with human rights standards and principles as delineated in international human rights treaties.
- Monitor private education providers and hold accountable those whose practices negatively impact the enjoyment of the right to education. States should do this by engaging with existing national human rights mechanisms, parliamentarians, and civil society.
- When violations of the right to education are committed, States should ensure that victims have access to remedies and reparation.
- Support research and awareness-raising activities to increase and improve understanding of the many ways in which the commercialization of education impacts the enjoyment of the right to education. See id. at para. 2.
Additionally, the resolution encourages States to: create education targets that are specific, measurable, realistic, and relevant; allocate sufficient budgets to ensure quality education; develop national indicators to measure progress towards realizing the right to education as well as to formulate education policy, assess the impact of changes, and increase transparency; take steps to eliminate gender-based discrimination and other types of violence that take place in educational settings; and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights if they have not yet done so. The resolution discusses the impact of attacks, including terrorist attacks, on the right to education, especially for women and girls, and encourages States to: increase protection for schools and universities against attacks, adopt legislation criminalizing attacks on educational institutions, prosecute offenders, and provide assistant to victims of these attacks. See id. at paras. 4-12.
The resolution also calls upon the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), treaty bodies, special procedures of the Human Rights Council, and other relevant stakeholders to work together to realize the right of education, including by providing technical assistance to States. See id. at para. 13. The resolution concludes with a call for national human rights institutions (NHRIs), civil society organizations, and parliamentarians to contribute to the realization of the right to education, including by working with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. See id. at para. 14.
Reaction of Civil Society Groups
The following eight civil society groups welcomed the Human Rights Council resolution: The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; The Right to Education Project; Privatisation in Education Research Initiative; Results; The Global Campaign for Education; ActionAid International; Oxfam International; and Education International. [Right to Education Project]
For example, Delphine Dorsi, of the Right to Education Project, commented on the timeliness of the resolution, stating that “a growing number of education providers, in particular multinational education companies, are taking advantage of weak regulation in some countries to make a profit to the detriment of parents and children’s rights.” [Right to Education Project]
Additionally, Tony Baker, of Results, noted that this resolution not only concerns States but also “international institutions and donors, like the World Bank, that have been investing in for-profit, fee-charging private schools…” He emphasized the need for investments to “align with global and national efforts to achieve free, universal education for all to harness education’s power to break the cycle of poverty.” [Right to Education Project]
The UN Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental entity composed of 47 States and provides a forum to discuss human rights conditions in UN Member States. The Council’s mandate is to promote “universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all” and “address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon.” For additional information on the UN Human Rights Council, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.